July 24, 2017

Are You Doing Stuff or Creating Value?

You can put a bunch of stickies on the wall, create tons of JIRA tickets, and commit lots of code, but are you creating value? Is the work your product development team has done helping solve a problem for your customers or helping to acquire new customers for your business?

Product leaders often come to us because their teams are doing lots of stuff but that stuff is not turning into features that customers love. Stickies, tickets, and code are just stuff –  they’re activity, not value.

Value exists in the hands of our customers and stakeholders. It exists when we can learn, when customers can take action, and when we start to drive business objectives (revenue, adoption, retention).

We train all of our staff in the Product Mindset and one of its three core values is to Minimize Time to Value. We believe that features guided by learning and user input take precedence over research and hypothesis.

If your team is doing a lot but not creating value quickly and regularly, here are five guidelines you can follow, along with questions you should ask.

1. Put something in their hands

Is it in Sketch app but not a prototype? Does it work on your machine and not in a staging or production environment? Can I interact with it? No? Then you haven’t delivered any value aside from warm fuzzies and performance art.

2. Solve for Today

Scale is a problem we want, but do we have that problem today? Is the feature you are proposing an optional, nice to have? Does anyone want it, much less do tens of thousands of people want it? Does your technology and process allow you to excel at change? If so, then we can solve the mother of all traffic storms when it is actually on the horizon, not in hopeful anticipation. The highest cost of any feature is not its initial development time, but the cost and impact on future development.

3. Put customers first and your ego second

Do you think you are solving a customer problem or do you know? We all have ideas and preferences for the products we build and how we build them, but has yours been validated? Customers don’t cheat at prioritization. If you prototype and test ideas with your customers, you’ll know what to build. Use their guidance to avoid chasing shiny objects and steel balloons.

4. Celebrate grumbling over missing features

When someone complains that you are missing a feature, is that really a bad thing? Would you prefer feedback or silence? Having users who care and are invested enough in product success should be celebrated. It means they used it, they want more and you know what to focus your efforts on.

5. Use the 30 Second Rule

Imagine you are standing on the stage Steve Jobs style and you are going to pitch your product in 30 seconds. If a feature isn’t something that is worth talking about on the stage, is it  worth building? Violating the :30 rule can often give the appearance of providing someone, somewhere value and worth. Unfortunately, no, this usually isn’t reflected in the product.

Doing stuff is easy, creating value is hard, and minimizing time to value is ninja level. It means we need to move forward without certainty, that our company trusts us when we say there will be another release, and we have to be willing to give up things we want. If we can do all of those things, we will get to market faster, learn faster, and have a better chance of building products that thrive in this competitive world.